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Baba Yaga


Any ‘witch’ way you can, horror fans.

Rod Lott February 17th, 2012

As the unique titles have it, "from the strip cartoon" comes “Baba Yaga,” a minor slice of Italian Pop Art horror from 1973. Despite that date, it carries that unmistakable striking look of the psychedelic '60s.

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Based upon the erotic comics of Guido Crepax, the film focuses on Valentina (Isabelle De Funès), a nudie-art photographer/pixie who’s almost run over late one night by a mysterious, black-veiled older woman (Carroll Baker, “Giant,” “The Carpetbaggers”), who claims their meeting is preordained, steals a garter clip for the day and warns her not to forget her name: Baba Yaga, which is either baby talk, a song by The Who or a Gilda Radner character.

Little does Valentina realize that Baba Yaga is a witch — not even after visiting the woman’s multistoried home that comes complete with built-in pit and a creepy porcelain doll named Annette, decked out in S&M gear. While there, Valentina imagines that her nude body is being violated by a pinching scorpion and pecking crow. Her dreams become plagued by nightmares of Nazis, of boxing naked against Jesus.

Worse, after Baba Yaga touches it, her camera now has clicks that kill. The tool of the young woman’s livelihood now means death for others!

Valentina’s boyfriend (“Django” sequels vet George Eastman) not only doesn’t believe it, but doesn’t want to hear it: “Now, look, you meet an old lesbian, huh? And a friend of yours gets a headache. All of a sudden, it's sorcery and witches.”

“She's pale. Her hands are icy.”

“Listen, I have an old aunt in Treviso who has two teeth like that, huh? But that doesn't make her Dracula.”

And writer/director Corrado Farina’s supernatural sexual suspenser never made that much of an impact, but certainly is worthy viewer for horror fans, in particular those whose tastes smack of Italian spices.

Farina makes a number of interesting choices behind the camera that bring “Baba Yaga” up in quality from his own so-so script. One is that while Hollywood product would milk the killer doll, he employs it with subtlety, as Annette's expressions and positions change ever so slightly, and only between shots rather than during. Valentina’s discovery of Annette’s true nature while developing photos is a terrifying reveal.

For another, Valentina’s love scene with her boyfriend is rendered mostly as fumetti panels using overexposed black-and-white photographs, sometimes with several panels appearing onscreen at once to mirror Crepax’s comics.

I first saw “Baba Yaga” more than a decade ago on one of Brentwood Home Video’s then-popular 10-flick themed box sets among the budget bins, under the alternate title of “Kiss Me, Kill Me.” Its print was dark, muddy — a real detriment to Farina’s work. But it’s only by viewing Blue Underground’s shiny new Blu-ray release that I was able to realize by just how much. It really is almost like seeing an entirely different film.

Plus, you get a yaga’s worth of extras, including:

• a frank interview with Farina, in which he disses the other comics adaptations of that time: Roger Vadim’s “Barbarella,” Joseph Losey’s “Modesty Blaise” and, to a lesser degree of harshness, Mario Bava’s “Danger: Diabolik”;

• a brief documentary on Crepax, a first-rate artist whose drawings have a decorative bent and cinematic foundation (I welcomed it, as the film made me want to know more about the man, who’s all but obscure on these shores); and

• 10 minutes of scenes both deleted (more nightmares) and censored (more Baker, literally, as in all of her, if you’re into that sort of thing, and something tells me you are). —Rod Lott


 
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